Catasauqua Press

Friday, October 20, 2017

Theater Review: Expect CKP’s ‘Down of a Thistle’ to entertain

Wednesday, December 14, 2016 by CAROLE GORNEY Special to The Press in Focus

It’s a cross between an Agatha Christie who-done-it, a Noel Coward comedy and “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

It’s the Crowded Kitchen Players (CKP) unconventional holiday treat, “The Down of a Thistle,” through Dec. 18, Unicorn Theatre, 417 Front St., Catasauqua. The Dec. 10 performance was seen for this review.

Billed as a “jovial Christmas melodrama,” and staged as a radio show, the play features a nine-member cast playing 10 characters, half of whom manage to get killed off before the end, ala Christie’s “Ten Little Indians.”

The victims are members of a family household trapped in an isolated Adirondack Mountain Lodge during a blizzard on Christmas Eve. The homicidal maniac who is stalking them is inspired by Clement Moore’s iconic poem “A visit from St. Nick,” better known as “The Night Before Christmas,” from which the play title is also inspired:

“He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, and

away they all flew, like the down of a thistle.”

Ara Barlieb, CKP cofounder, has written and directed an absorbing tale that is a welcome contrast from the usual sentimentality of most holiday fare. His cast members carry their parts off nicely, punctuating their script reading with the right intonations and engaging facial expressions.

Dan Ferry (The Butler) has the fewest spoken lines, but is front and center, literally and figuratively, in terms of comic relief. As his cues approach, he rises from his chair, puts on his coat, sprays his throat, yawns to open the mouth, walks to the microphone, raises his script in preparation befitting an actor about to deliver Hamlet’s first immortal words. He speaks: “Yes, ma’am,” then returns to his seat, removes his coat, hangs it on the back of the chair, and sits down. He does it all with panache.

Brian Wendt is fetching as the German-speaking blond who arrives at the lodge in the middle of the storm and the killing spree, and Carla Thew’s characterization of the wife is attention-grabbing.

There’s good acting and some clever twists and turns to this latest Crowded Kitchen offering. What you believe is the surprise ending turns out not to be the real surprise. Be patient, pay attention and expect to be entertained.